Antibody deficiencies may arise as primary disorders or secondary to a variety of diseases, drugs and other environmental/iatrogenic factors. Significant primary antibody deficiencies are relatively rare but, collectively, account for the majority of primary immunodeficiency syndromes encountered in clinical practice. The genetic basis of a number of primary deficiencies has been clarified, although there is considerable genotype/phenotype heterogeneity and the role of gene/environment interactions has yet to be fully elucidated. Primary antibody deficiency can present at any age. The hallmark clinical presentation is recurrent bacterial infection, but these disorders are also associated with a wide variety of other infectious and non-infectious complications and with a high incidence of chronic, structural tissue damage, particularly in the respiratory tract. Clinical recognition of primary antibody deficiency is frequently delayed with consequent increased morbidity, diminished quality of life and early mortality. Clinical laboratories can contribute to improved and timely detection through awareness of routine test results which may be overtly or indirectly suggestive of antibody deficiency. Secondary deficiency is associated with increased awareness, better recognition and earlier diagnosis than in primary disorders. Early liaison and referral of patients with suspected antibody deficiency for specialist opinion and prompt, appropriate therapy is central to the achievement of good clinical outcomes.
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